The inaugural Smoky Mountain Elk Fest is right around the corner, and already Haywood County is buzzing over the arrival of the newest event at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds.
The event is spread out over two days, with a smaller culinary event on Friday, Sept. 13 and the main festival held on Saturday, Sept. 14.
The event is coming together thanks to the efforts of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority alongside a number of sponsors ranging from national park advocates to wildlife conservation groups and many others.
Haywood TDA Executive Director Lynn Collins said the community and visitors alike have been inquiring about the festival for weeks now as word spreads about the new event.
“There’s a lot of excitement about it already,” Collins said. “We’ve gotten a lot of phone calls, and when we’re out in the community people are asking about it and getting excited about it.”
Saturday’s festival will offer a wide variety of activities, with live music throughout the day, family-friendly activities and demonstrations, guided hikes and more planned to celebrate the elk herd established in the Cataloochee Valley in 2001.
“It’s a great lineup,” Collins said. “It’ll be conservation groups, education, demonstrations and lots of kids activities. It’s just a fun day for the whole family.”
Taste of the Wild, an evening of catered, wild dishes, takes place the night before the festival. Local sponsors have contributed prizes for a silent raffle, and a limited number of tickets will be sold for the event at $40 each.
While the elk herd will be the center of attention during the celebration, Collins said there will be an overall focus on the outdoors and what it means to so many people in Haywood County.
“It’s going to focus on the elk, but it’s really just going to be a celebration of the outdoors and everything that relates back to the elk,” she said. “The land conservancy is going to be there, all the wildlife resource organizations will be there, we’ll have the Blue Ridge Parkway Association and the Great Smoky Mountains Association and more.”
With no previous festivals to draw insight from, Collins said this year’s Elk Fest should determine if the event is viable in the long term and if the TDA’s goals for its inaugural offering are realistic.
“We’re trying to manage our expectations for a first year event, but obviously the bottom line is we want to create awareness and talk about the elk and their importance to our area, and also the sustainability of the elk program,” Collins said.
The festival could also be the impetus for a new source of financial support for the agencies that help manage the elk herd and the habitat necessary for the herd’s health. Proceeds from the sale of tickets to Taste of the Wild will go toward the Elk Conservation Fund, a fund established by the Elk Fest.
“The ultimate goal is to create a fund that will go through to the herd through the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to service habitat and elk programs in Haywood County and the Qualla Boundary,” Collins said. “We’d like to come out of this with a nice little contribution to get that fund opened up.”
For a full lineup of the festival’s events and performers, or additional information about the festival or Taste of the Wild, visit the TDA online at visitncsmokies.com/smoky-mountain-elk-fest/ or call the TDA at 828-944-0761.